Eastern Kurdistan: a silent politics with huge casualties

It is surely time that organisations that are internally active should dedicate their efforts to resuming activities that give hope to the people.

Seevan Saeed
21 September 2017

Screenshot: Leaders from the past: Dr. Qasimlo talks about abjuring terrorism during the Kurdish struggle. Youtube.The situation of the Kurds in a drastically changing Middle East has received little attention in academia and less in the media despite their growing impact on regional and international politics. The biggest stateless people living in the Middle East are on the verge of a new status, not only in Iraqi Kurdistan, where a referendum for independence takes place on September 25, 2017, but also in Syria and Turkey. Then there are the Iranian Kurds. Their stories and the conditions they live in are the least known, not only by the international community but also by fellow-Kurds living in three neighbouring countries, due to an intense isolation. This week’s short series looks at current political struggles of the Kurds in four neighbouring countries or in a country that does not exist on the world map but in the hearts and mind of 40 million people. Mehmet Kurt, series editor.

Inspired by the Kurdish movement in the north and Rojava (in Turkey and Syria), PJAK (the Kurdistan Independent Life Party affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers's Party (PKK) or Iranian branch of the PKK) and recently KODAR (the East Kurdistan Democratic and Independent Party also founded by the PKK, to replace the PJAK) were established to fill the gap of the Kurdish struggle in Iran. Yet, this new attempt has faced several serious obstacles. Can Kurdish politics in Rojhelat, (Rojhelat, literally means East, and refers to the eastern part of Kurdistan which is located within Iran’s current borders) look for a change of course to take it out of its current stagnation? Or will it continue to waste the time, resources and patience of a disappointed Kurdish people?

The Islamic state of Iran executes at least seven people every day. Tens of thousands of political prisoners and thousands of other prisoners accused of multiple crimes spend their lives behind bars inside the regime’s prisons. A large proportion of these are Kurdish people accused and tortured on the basis that they are the enemy of God and his Islamic regime in Iran.

To add to their hardship and terrible oppression, there is a huge discrepancy between the living standards, economic mobility, cultural activities, social status and freedom of movement of those who dwell in the Kurdish areas and those from areas that are loyal to the regime. Moreover, the Islamic regime has drawn up a concerted plan to spread social crises, and promote drug addiction and other crimes, particularly in Kurdistan. The state has ravaged the Kurdish people with huge rates of unemployment and criminalised most of their economic activities to such an extent that is very hard for the majority to attain the lowest level of a standard of living.

In contrast to the other parts of Kurdistan, the Kurdish liberation movement in Iran suffers from inactivity and defeatism. These parties never have been and they will never be a threat to the Islamic state. The justification for this lack of strategy given by the Kurdish political parties is that the state is so strong that it doesn't leave them any room for progress. But Kurds are suffering elsewhere under regimes as harsh and strong as the Islamic state. Why in the northern part of Kurdistan, can the Kurds have strong political parties and a multi-dimensional movement with a range of activities that must be perfectly visible to the Turkish state? How is it that in Rojava, in war-torn northern Syria, the Kurds have started to establish a democratic and autonomous status that offers a positive example for all to take lessons from?

It is clear that the eastern part of Kurdistan also has a long history of struggle and well-known leaders who could still inspire people and their parties up to this day. However, the fact is that those leaders and their political parties have never been grounded in a systematic philosophy with perspectives that can mobilise the Kurdish people towards freedom and autonomy. These rather traditional parties have always built their hopes on external powers to make some changes in Iran, despite the lack of evidence that these external powers have ever given a thought to the interests and rights of the Kurds in Iran. It is not an exaggeration to say that since the establishment of the short-lived republic of Kurdistan in 1946, the Kurdish parties have always been waiting for the superpowers to attack the regime in Iran and thereby create their long-awaited window of opportunity for freedom. But it is all too obvious that in such circumstances, the superpowers will never neglect their own economic and political interests to support the Kurds, even if the Kurdish cause in terms of human rights and justice is beyond question.

Since the Iran-Iraq war in 1981, the traditional Kurdish parties of eastern Kurdistan have fallen into the self-defeating trap of what can be called a proxy war. They are almost always used as proxy forces between Iraq and Iran. Following the uprising of the Kurds in Iraq in 1991, these parties became refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq in order – so they said – not to disturb the plan and friendship between the KRI and the Islamic regime, and to protect the interests of the newly born Kurdish entity in the south.

Moreover, due to personal and fractional interests within the leadership of both traditional Kurdish parties in the east, both parties allowed themselves to be divided into several little parties under the same name and with the same approach and programmes. Currently there are two parties under the name of ‘Democrats’ and four groups under the name of ‘KOMALA’ all of whom are settled into inactivity on campsites in the southern part of Kurdistan. These parties are running very negative campaigns against each other, not over ideological and strategic differences, but arising out of battles for personal leadership and economic interests. As a matter of fact, the conflict between these parties renders them perfectly harmless. They live in deep chaos without any ideological clarity or future plans.

Since 2003, it seems these parties are really counting on the USA to attack Iran and destroy the Islamic regime in the same way that they have created havoc and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. In that case, these parties could go home and take their share in the new pro-western government, running the Kurdish areas within Iran. 

These parties seem to entertain no other options and are not even working hard to achieve this aim. Currently one can see that Iran’s nuclear deal with the states of the five plus one have had a positive impact for the Islamic regime and the possibility of this regime collapsing from within is very slight.

Arguably, this weak political thinking and ideological poverty has had a long history within the struggle of these traditional Kurdish parties. But in the old days, if these parties put out a call for people to go to the streets or at least boycott some of the state’s activities and close their shops in certain cities on special days like the anniversary of the martyrdom of Abdul Rahman Qasimlo or Foad Soltani – the Kurdish people would positively answer that call. But how about now? Would the people positively respond? In fact, people from the east part of Kurdistan no longer believe in the policies and programmes of these parties.

As a matter of fact, these parties are stuck with a dangerously profound identity crisis. While not adapting any policy and approach to show that they are struggling for Kurdish independence, they do not tackle the notion of Iranianness either, with a view to having positive links with other Iranian forces and groups and struggling for a democratic Iran, in which one day, we might see an autonomous and free Kurdistani region. In other words, while they have no any practical effect on reality, nor is there any strategy or plan.

They claim that after the uprising of the Kurds in the south of Iran in 1991, hundreds of leaders, senior members and cadres of these parties have been assassinated and terrorised by the Islamic regime. However, all this terror has failed to motivate the parties to revive and reorganise themselves, setting aside their internal problems and thinking of a solution for this very passive condition. Instead, it is this very negativity that leads to ever-increasing factionalism and conflict. It would be an honourable act for the parties to bring to an end their role in the eastern part of Kurdistan.

Despite all these limitations and problems, even if their numbers are not so many, there are some truly loyal people, “peshmerga” guerrillas and other cadres scattered among these political parties. Moreover, inside eastern Kurdistan, ‘Rojhelat’, the Kurdish people still have a positive potential that can be used and mobilised to revive the revolution.

It is surely time that organisations that are internally active should dedicate their efforts to organising people again and giving hope to the people. They might then be able to advance a new pathway to bring about a different result from the last seventy years. The first thing to be avoided is a repeat of the focus on power-seeking. Political leaders in our recent past were mainly thinking about how to strengthen their own personal political powers and promote internal conflict in order to defend and advance their own personal powers and interests. In this way, the party leaders did not hesitate to collaborate with enemies and seek support from states which have Kurdistan under their control. For example, they sought support from Iraqi regimes to confront the Iranian regime. And in the process, they ended up promoting the same mentality as the occupiers of Kurdistan, rather than working in pursuit of a new struggle with a free and democratic mentality. This led only to a crisis in identity.

One further problem. To copy and paste the ‘Ideas of Ocalan and KCK’ into conditions in Rojhelat without fully understanding the social, cultural and political condition of Iran, the Iranian nations and the history of the Kurds in Rojhelat is likely to bring only more chaos rather than help Kurds to construct a positive and effective alternative. It is indeed far too soon to fully assess what KODAR and PJAK can or cannot do in the social and political arena of Rojhelat.

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Screenshot: Leaders from the past - biography of Foad Mostafa Soltani. YouTube.

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